When he was just fifteen, Paiyo, was separated from his mother for two years. A couple of weeks ago, on 26th July, they were reunited in their home village.
Paiyo is one of more than 15,000 children who have been separated from their families by the South Sudan conflict.
He is the 5000th child we have helped to reunite with family since the conflict broke out in 2013.
Paiyo fled his home for Wau, in northwestern South Sudan, when fighting broken out – this is how he became separated from his family.
He slept hungry for days and became so ill he could not speak.
A woman called Madelina found him. She gave him tea and then rushed him to the hospital for treatment. After he was released from hospital, Madelina took care of him. She registered Paiyo with a local partner organisation as a separated child, so that his parents could begin to be traced.
Paiyo remembers the first time he saw his mother’s photograph again, “I was so happy and that gave me hope of seeing her again.”
It took a while before Hellen heard of her son’s whereabouts.
During that time, she thought of him every day, “When I ate I always thought about what my son could be eating. I only ate to stay alive but I never enjoyed it.”
With the support from local partners, we were able to trace her in her home village in Gbudwe State and prepare to reunite Hellen with her son.
Day of reunification
Hellen rode on a motorcycle, commonly known as a ‘Boda Boda’, to the village where Paiyo was waiting with us and our partner’s Child Protection teams. Hellen was ill with typhoid and couldn’t walk.
But she jumped with joy as she held Paiyo.
Hellen was relieved to be reunited with her son. She said: “I have been unhappy because I have been thinking about my son’s whereabouts. It was hard to forget him because I didn’t see him dead and buried him.
“I have ten children but every child is unique to me. Even if I have a million children, if I miss one, it hurts.”
“I want to be a pilot”
Paiyo sat on his mother’s lap in front of their hut. Hellen stretched her hands to feel his head and arms, while his sister sat around them, reflecting how much they had missed him.
Paiyo felt grateful. “I thank the people who have rescued me. I want to go back to school and someday help other children who are suffering like me.”
“I want to become a pilot and one day return to Wau to see Madelina and help her. She was so good to me, without her, my mum might never have seen me again.”
Hellen added, “I thank God for guiding him back home. Now that he has returned, I want him to go back to school.”
South Sudan war – children suffer the most
Children in war are always the worst affected, as innocent victims of the conflict. With the South Sudan conflict well into its fourth year, children are suffering the most. This is truly a children’s emergency, with an estimated 6% of the population across the country being under the age of 18.
Thousands have been separated from their loved ones as a result of the violence and are now at risk of abuse, exploitation and grave violations including killing, maiming and sexual violence.
We’re going to keep reuniting families
We’re the leading agency for family tracing and reunification – over the past few years we have been investing heavily in the family tracing and reunification programme.
In addition to our own programmes, we’ve been providing coordination, ongoing support and capacity building to other family tracing and reunification agencies across the country, as well as managing the database for separated children.
And as of today, in collaboration with our partners including UNICEF, we have reunified 5,000 children with their families.